Monday, June 09, 2008
Morning Edition - 6/9/08
…And That’s How Cocoa Was Born
Over twenty years ago, while living in Plainfield, New Jersey, I came face-to-face with my reality as a Puerto Rican man of color. A young black woman approached me during a barbecue and asked where my accent was from. Shocked that I even had one – an accent that is – I simply said, “I’m Puerto Rican.” The woman took one step back and said, “Child please…why is it that black men can’t just be black? …they always tryin’ to be somethin’ more exotic and shit.” Offended, I explained that although I may be a man of color and look like many of the African American men who were in attendance, I was Puerto Rican. The argument was short-lived, but the discussion lived on in my head for quite some time. I always knew I was perceived to be an African American man at first glance, but that reality didn’t diminish the enormous pride in my heart for my culture; being Puerto Rican. For years, I struggled between what others perceived and what I believed in my heart to be an obvious reality. Then, just before my twentieth birthday, it hit me. Regardless of what anyone thought, perceived, believed or felt, I was a Puerto Rican man who just happens to be cocoa-colored. To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with being African American – if you’re African American – but if you’re Korean and someone insists that you’re Chinese, it’s a problem; a problem I let the ignorant dwell on today. As I enjoyed the Puerto Rican Day Parade with my girls Chocolate and Pumpkin yesterday, I marveled at how I was among more than two million other Puerto Ricans celebrating our culture, our heritage, our homeland in all its amazing splendor and with all our different influences and complexions. I was never one to be pigeon-holed by anyone, so I knew that choosing to create and tattoo Cocoa Rican on my right arm was my reconciling my pride in who I am and who I will always be.
Perception is reality…or is it? Has anyone judged you based on your appearance and got it wrong?
Keep passin’ the open windows…